In the U.S., one in six children—or 13 million—is hungry. They go to school hungry and spend weekends and holidays hungry. These children live in every community in the country.
“Children coming to school hungry is real,” one Utah teacher said. “I have students whose only meals are breakfast and lunch at school. There are kids who don’t like school breaks and weekends because they know they will be hungry.”
One hungry kid in the community is too many, but it’s a reality for thousands of children in Utah County. So how many children in Utah County live with hunger, how does it hurt them, and who’s doing something about it?
According to the latest data, 16.1 percent of Utah County children—or 31,090 kids—don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy, active life. Around the country, the hunger rate, or food insecurity rate, is higher when children are involved. The hunger rate for households with children is 16.5 percent, higher than the national average of 12.3 percent. And families with children under age 6 have a hunger rate of 16.6 percent; households with children headed by a single woman are at 31.6 percent. Food insecurity is a problem nationwide, with children impacted more than other groups.
How does hunger affect children?
The effects of hunger in children go beyond a rumbling stomach. In Utah, three out of five teachers report that they have children come to class hungry on a regular basis; 56 percent of Utah teachers indicate that more than five students come to class hungry every week. And four of 10 Utah teachers say that hunger is a “very serious problem” at their school. So what does hunger do to kids?
- It causes learning challenges: According to research, kids who aren’t sure where they’ll get their next meal are more likely to have lower scores in math or to repeat a grade. They’re also more likely to receive special education services. “A hungry child cannot focus on academics,” a Utah teacher said. “It is not a matter of will; they physically cannot until this need is met. How can we punish a child whose parents are unable to provide this basic need for them?” Children who experience food insecurity also are more likely to have developmental problems in language and motor skills.
- It causes behavioral issues: Studies show that children who don’t have consistent access to food have behavioral issues, including fighting, aggression, hyperactivity, and bullying. A study showed that hungry kids showed seven to 12 times as many symptoms of a conduct disorder than their at-risk or not-hungry peers—including stealing, getting in trouble with a teacher, not following rules, fighting or blaming other people for problems.
- It causes physical health problems: Studies show that kids who are food insecure are more likely to be hospitalized, are at higher risk for chronic health conditions like asthma and anemia, may have more problems with oral health, and may have a poor physical quality of life.
- It causes mental health problems: Hungry kids have increased risks for psychiatric problems, including anxiety and mood swings.
When children don’t have consistent access to food, it affects every aspect of their lives, from learning to behavior to mental and physical health.
In Utah County, Community Action Services and Food Bank is working to provide food to hungry children.
- Kid Nutrition Paks: Every week, Community Action sends home more than a thousand Nutrition Paks with elementary school children. These packs contain seven food items that kids can prepare and eat themselves. In 2017, it sent home 1,450 packs every week. It takes donations of supplies or money for the program.
- Food Bank: Hungry kids come from hungry families. With the second-largest food bank in Utah, Community Action distributed 3.6 million pounds of food in 2017 to families in Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties. It takes donations of food and money.
- Programs: The long-term solution to hungry children is solving poverty. Community Action offers services to teach people the skills they need to pull themselves out of poverty.
Children and families living in poverty or with hunger in Utah County aren’t alone—Community Action Services and Food Bank has programs and services to help.
Hunger is a reality for thousands of children every day in Utah County. It affects how well they learn, how they behave, and their physical and mental health. But Community Action Services and Food Bank is fighting hunger and poverty in Utah County, and you can help. Go here for more information about programs, services, volunteering and donating.